BREAKING: Unions condemn Lewisham “downgrade” decision

by - 31st January 2013, 13.39 BST

Unions have condemned today’s announcement that the A&E department at Lewisham Hospital is to be “downgraded”, and maternity services closed.

An estimated 25,000 people marched on Saturday to protest against the plans, but this morning they were ignored as health minister Jeremy Hunt said he would go ahead with the plans regardless.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “The campaign to protect Lewisham’s A&E and maternity services has shown that people are willing to stand up and fight to keep their NHS safe and local. Hospital staff and local people will be shocked and outraged by today’s decision, but the campaign to preserve these vital and highly valued services will go on.

“The long-term impact of the downgrade – and whether today’s announcement is just a repackaging of the original plans – remains to be seen. We know that a major reorganisation of emergency services is planned, which makes today’s decision even more premature.

“Lewisham is not the first and won’t be the last hospital to come under attack by this government. Its disastrous NHS reorganisation and squeezes on funding are causing cuts and closures across the country.

“The public will continue to make their voices heard, and to fight for their NHS, and UNISON will continue to support them.”

Unite branded the health secretary’s statement as “chaotic, shambolic, and driven by financial dogma and not patient care.”

Unite head of health Rachael Maskell said: “The fight will go on to protect health services from the chaotic and pro-privatisation policies that this government has pursued since May 2010.

“The greedy shambles of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) that are at the core of the problems of South London Healthcare NHS Trust – and these PFI debts across the country need to be managed and not be responsible for crippling local services.

“The failure regime has been abused by Jeremy Hunt to load problems and financial risk on to a successful hospital in one of the most deprived communities.

“Hunt is trying to destabilise the whole NHS against the united voice of health professionals, patients and the public.

“As a result of today’s statement, the threats to the other 30 trusts and surrounding communities which cannot reach financial targets looks bleak.

“Creating chaos in the NHS – with further re-organisation and more cuts ahead of the Francis report into the myriad failings of Mid Staffordshire – demonstrates how financial targets are put ahead of patient care.

“Hunt is creating chaos so that the NHS fails which will then be used as   justification for the mass privatisation programme – the central tenet of the Health and Social Care Act.

“The NHS is now a political football and no longer about the sick but about how much profit private healthcare companies can generate.”

Steve Turner, Unite executive director of policy and local resident, said: “Last Saturday 25,000 local residents marched to save Lewisham and now they have been kicked in the teeth.

“The attack on Lewisham A&E and maternity services is a disgraceful betrayal of the people of south east London.

“If Tory ministers – who have the personal wealth to ‘go private’ – think they can destroy our NHS with the swipe of a pen they are badly mistaken.

“Our community in Lewisham is united in this fight to defend what generations before us fought and died to build.

“Unite will support, encourage and resource any legitimate actions felt appropriate to stop the  proposed downgrading – we will not stand back as our health service is privatised for profit, not in Lewisham, not anywhere.

“The health of the people is the highest calling for a modern and progressive society and the Tories will pay if they continue to ignore a growing anger at their arrogance and contempt for ordinary, decent people.”